Over the past year, British Columbia has introduced specific measures to address bullying and harassment in the workplace and to compensate victims of such acts. In May 2012, the government amended the province’s Workers Compensation Act to provide compensation to workers that suffer a mental disorder as a result of “a significant work-related stressor, including bullying or harassment, or a cumulative series of significant work-related stressors, arising out of and in the course of the worker’s employment.” This measure came into force in July 2012. In March 2013, the Workers’ Compensation Board released three new policies on the duties of employers, workers and supervisors with respect to workplace bullying and harassment. These policies come into effect on Friday, November 1, 2013.
The board’s new policies respectively extend employers’, employees’ and supervisors’ existing duties of care under the Workers’ Compensation Act (sections 115–117) to include preventing bullying and harassment in the workplace.
Under the policies, “bullying and harassment” includes “any inappropriate conduct or comment by a person toward a worker that the person knew or reasonably ought to have known would cause that worker to be humiliated or intimidated, but excludes “any reasonable action taken by an employer or supervisor relating to the management and direction of workers or the place of employment.”
A “person” is:
Any individual, whether or not they are a workplace party. This means that a ‘person’ could be a workplace party such as an employer, supervisor, or co-worker, or a non-workplace party such as a member of the public, a client, or anyone a worker comes into contact with at the workplace.
The duties of employers, workers and supervisors are similar, but not the same. All workplace parties “must take all reasonable steps to prevent where possible, or otherwise minimize, workplace bullying and harassment.” However, their level of responsibility varies.
Employers’ duty of care now includes preventing bullying and harassment. Specifically, by:
(a) Developing a policy statement with respect to workplace bullying and harassment not being acceptable or tolerated;
(b) Taking steps to prevent where possible, or otherwise minimize, workplace bullying and harassment;
(c) Developing and implementing procedures for workers to report incidents or complaints of workplace bullying and harassment including how, when and to whom a worker should report incidents or complaints. This must include procedures for a worker to report if the alleged bully and harasser is the employer, a supervisor or a person acting on behalf of the employer;
(d) Developing and implementing procedures for how the employer will deal with incidents or complaints of workplace bullying and harassment including:
- How and when investigations will be conducted
- What will be included in the investigation
- Roles and responsibilities of employers, supervisors, workers and others
- Follow-up to the investigation (description of corrective actions, timeframe, dealing with adverse symptoms, etc.) and
- Record-keeping requirements
(e) Informing workers of the policy statement in (a) and the steps taken in (b);
(f) Training supervisors and workers on:
- Recognizing the potential for bullying and harassment
- Responding to bullying and harassment and
- Procedures for reporting, and how the employer will deal with incidents or complaints of bullying and harassment in (c) and (d) respectively
(g) Annually reviewing (a), (b), (c), and (d);
(h) Not engaging in bullying and harassment of workers and supervisors; and
(i) Applying and complying with the employer’s policies and procedures on bullying and harassment.
Under the new policy, workers’ duty is “to take reasonable care to protect the health and safety of themselves and other persons.” Specifically, this means:
a) Not engaging in bullying and harassment of other workers, supervisors, the employer or persons acting on behalf of the employer;
b) Reporting if bullying and harassment is observed or experienced in the workplace; and
c) Applying and complying with the employer’s policies and procedures on bullying and harassment. This includes actively participating in training and cooperating with investigations.
The duties of supervisors fall in between those of the employer and workers. They must “take all reasonable steps to ensure the health and safety of workers under their supervision.” Specifically, by:
a) Not engaging in bullying and harassment of workers, other supervisors, the employer or persons acting on behalf of the employer; and
b) Applying and complying with the employer’s policies and procedures on bullying and harassment.
The policies are short and concise and leave plenty of room for interpretation, while also placing new obligations on employers to develop policy and train employees. The Occupational Health and Safety Regulation already covers workplace violence. WorkSafeBC’s new bullying and harassment policies don’t ask of employees as much as the regulation, but they do require action.
The province has released a basic toolkit and guidelines to help employers implement the policies. These resources include a general handbook, a small business guide, fact sheets and answers to frequently asked questions, a training tool and sample presentation.
Human Resources PolicyPro – BC Edition
To complement BC’s free basic toolkit and guidelines with expert commentaries and compliance based sample workplace harassment and violence policies specific for British Columbia, try Human Resources PolicyPro – BC Edition.
Workplace violence and harassment prevention
Our guide, Workplace violence and harassment prevention, helps you develop and implement a prevention program and policies that comply with legal requirements for all jurisdictions.
First Reference Human Resources and Compliance Editor